This compelling tale of courage, heroism, and terror is told in the words of ninety-one sailors and officers interviewed by the author about their World War II service aboard fifty-six destroyer escorts. They reveal many never-before-told details of life at sea during wartime and, along with information found in secretly kept war diaries and previously unpublished personal photographs, add important dimensions to the official record. Unseasoned teenage recruits when they first went to sea, these sailors were led by inexperienced college boys more accustomed to yachts than warships. Their ships were untested vessels, designed by a man with no formal training in ship design, and which many viewed as a waste of money. Yet, as Cross points out, these men are credited with helping turn the tide of the war in the Atlantic as they singlehandedly sank some seventy U-boats and captured U-505, the only German submarine taken during the war and the first enemy vessel captured by Americans at sea since the War of 1812. In the Pacific, the destroyer escorts fought in every major battle, side-by-side with Allied battleships and destroyers.
But this story is not just about battles. It is also about American genius, hard work, honor and growing up in the Great Depression. The author provides eyewitness details about the historic first step taken to end racial discrimination in the military as African-Americans stepped aboard the destroyer escort USS Mason as full-fledged sailors for the first time and earned a Navy commendation of heroism in the Battle of the Atlantic—presented to the surviving crewmen fifty-one years later. Readers also learn about an ingenious invention when a sailor breaks his silence about a secret weapon tested aboard his destroyer escort that rendered a new German radio-controlled glide bomb useless.
Robert F. Cross is a trustee of the USS Slater, the last destroyer escort still afloat in the United States, and fully restored to its original World War II configuration. He also serves as commissioner of the Port of Albany in New York, and is water commissioner for the City of Albany. A former award-winning newspaper correspondent, he is the author of Sailor in the White House: The Seafaring Life of FDR,and lives in Albany, NY and Nantucket, MA.
With a Foreword by Christopher DuP. Roosevelt, Grandson of President Franklin D. Roosevelt
View the author's website.
Praise for Shepherds of the Sea
“Colourful, realistic, and gruesome at times, Shepherds of the Sea achieves its goal of clarifying the important role played by the destroyer escorts and their crews in the largest military conflict in the twentieth century.”
— The Northern Mariner, April 2011
“A valuable addition to the literature of the Second World War at sea.”
— The NYMAS Review, Fall 2011
"Shepherds of the Sea presents an interesting and often vivid look at life aboard a destroyer escort.”
— The Journal of America’s Military Past, Spring/Summer 2011
“Shepherds of the Sea is an interesting book. . . .well researched and pays tribute to the brave sailors of this overlooked naval force. Furthermore, within the text Cross includes a pleasant assortment of pictures from everyday life aboard Destroyer Escorts. This book is recommended to naval historians looking for a collection of first-hand accounts from the men serving during this era, and to general readers interested in the maritime aspects of World War II. As a former U.S. Navy sailor, the reviewer also recommends it to fellow shipmates. From the greenest recruits to the saltiest veterans.”
— The Journal of Military History, July 2011
"The first full-scale history of American destroyer escorts (DEs) in WW II focuses on the men who went to sea in the navy's smallest warships... the book itself can and should drop anchor in any WW II naval collection."
“…These ‘little boys’ soon proved to be most versatile by not only being uncanny in the way their sonar and radars stalked marauding U-boats, but equally adept at zapping Japanese submarines. The author weaves his interviews of 91 former DE sailors into a fine fabric that deftly blends equal amounts of horror, patriotism, sacrifice, duty, and affection into a quilt that will long be worn with pride by anyone who lays rightful claim to the boast, ‘I was a DE sailor’”
— Sea Classics magazine
“Cross has brought about nothing less than a moving and thrilling story consistently focused on the people involved and almost miraculously evoking the special character of the destroyer escorts…He has told their stories with eloquence and, sometimes, in graphic detail, portraying the pain, the injury, and yes, the blood and gore that are a necessary part of war. It is a story of the heart and soul of our country and we as its people…and comes at a critical time in U.S. history.”
—From the Foreword by Christopher DuP Roosevelt, Grandson of President Franklin D. Roosevelt
"Cross has carefully crafted an informative yet entertaining narrative which is as well connected a patchwork as a fine quilt. Shepherds of the Sea will hold the reader's attention from start to finish. I recommend it highly."
— Tin Can Sailors Association, The National Association of Destroyer Veterans
"This is the definitive story of the ships and their crew."
— Soundings magazine
"Cross tells the remarkable story of these diminutive ships and their crews who fought bitter naval battles in brutal conditions in the Atlantic, Pacific, and Mediterranean. Gripping tales include how one destroyer escort rammed a U-boat and then had to repel boarders."
— Military Officer magazine
"Author Robert F. Cross tells their whole story for the first time, through research and from interviews with 91 former DE sailors and officers. This is a well-written and extensively researched book that does justice to the heroism and sacrifices of DE sailors during World War II."
— Power Ships magazine, Steamship Historical Society of America
"This fascinating book tells the story of the World War II destroyer escorts that turned the tide of the Battle of the Atlantic…The author researched hundreds of letters and diaries and interviewed 91 veterans who served on destroyer escorts to create this excellent addition to World War II naval history."
— The Ensign magazine
"The DEs were disdained by the regular Navy, from JO to Admiral. By default, they became the empire of the "90 day wonders" and enlisted teenagers of the Naval Reserve. Now they finally have a writer worthy of their heroic story. Using their own words, the historic accomplishments of the DE sailors now take their place in naval legend."
— Hon. John F. Lehman, 65th Secretary of the Navy
“Remarkably, the author managed to interview surviving crewmembers from ten per cent of the fleet of DEs. This is their very inspiring story. It is very well told.”
— Work Boat World, April 2011
"Shepherds of the Sea is a wonderful and well-written study of the noble role U.S. Destroyer Escorts played in winning the Second World War. The amount of original research Robert Cross performed is stunning. Highly recommended!"
—Douglas Brinkley, Professor of History at Rice University and author of The Wilderness Warrior: Theodore Roosevelt and the Crusade for America
"Just when it seems that nothing new can be said about World War II, along comes Shepherds of the Sea, Bob Cross's well told tale of a diminutive but decisive weapon in the naval battle, the Destroyer Escort. Cross's gift is to create a sense of 'being there,' with the President who first envisioned this vessel and among the young men, often just teenagers, whose first glimpse of the sea was often from the deck of their DEs. A great read and an important chapter in our naval history."
—Joseph E. Persico, author of Roosevelt's Secret War: FDR and World War II Espionage
"Shepherds of the Sea is a worthwhile contribution to the literature on the Battle of the Atlantic. The [Cross] does an excellent job of weaving together the memories of sailors and describing in vivid detail what life was like on small ships in combat."
—International Journal of Maritime History, December 2010